The Drive 1,800 miles to Hay River on the Great Slave Lake, left Friday June 10th from East Lake 9:30 AM and arrived in Hay River Wednesday 10AM June 15th:
It was a long drive for both Stormy and me. I stopped often for both of us to get out and take a break, stretch and get the circulation going. My lower legs will swell up if I don’t do that and will still be an issue even if I do. We didn’t drive more than 350 miles a day. Pretty much came straight up as we could.
In an RV Park at a Golf Course
Lots of traffic from the time I left the lake until I got to within 300/400 miles of Hay River. The traffic died off almost entirely once you get to the end of the oil/gas boom going on in Alberta. Few tourists, a little early and Canada still has COVID on the front page.
Also, Hay River just experienced the worst flood they have had since the 60’s. Had a huge 14-foot Ice Jam, amazing what it did. Moved large barges, up ended houses and mud and debris everywhere in the worst of the areas. Just now starting the clean-up.
I had a marathon 2 ½ days getting some miscellaneous supplies and gear. The drivers’ side rear brake on the van blew up about 10 miles out of Hay River, fortunately I found Ernie, who assessed the issue, ordered the parts and had it back to me mid-day Thursday. He treated me right all the way around. I had just had the breaks replaced on the rear a month ago.
When one considers the amount of work I did, 12-hour days for weeks up at the lake getting things in order, the 1,800 miles drive, the 2 ½ day marathon in Hay River preparing as well as I could, I was very tired.
DAY 1 ON THE LAKE SATURDAY JUNE 18TH:
It took some time to determine the best place to head out of the protected bay of Hay River, because the biggest challenge almost everywhere was the amount of driftwood on the banks of the marina’s, the Parks and the camping areas.
As it turned out, there was a brand-new small boat slip that they just put the docks in, cleaned the place up very good, a port a potty and a trash bin was available.
I set my tent up and that was where I planned on spending Friday night, launching early Saturday morning. I left my van parked in the back lot of Canoe North, a long-established business in Hay River.
Previously I had put the tent up I had grabbed and realized that it didn’t have any mesh on the sides/top which means when you were in the tent you couldn’t see out. Not a good thing in bear country. Fortunately, one of the stores in town had a good tent, lots of mesh, I can stand up in and has a 360* view. I never put the rain cover on, unless it is needed, or the wind is howling. When I am laying down obviously, I can’t see out of the tent, but it is better to just get on your knees than it is to have to unzip the door, stick your head out or even have to get all the way out to see what you heard, if anything.
When we hit the bank for any reason, one of the 1st things I do is make sure I have the air horn handy and at least 1 can of bear spray. When I exit the kayak and secure it, the 2nd thing we do is scout the area for bear sign. If there is anything resembling fresh sign…tracks/scat, then we move on. I also try to set up in an open area. Bear aware 1st and chances are the breeze/wind in the afternoons and evenings will blow most, if not all the mosquitos away.
1ST Day/night in Hay River
Launch at 4:00 AM. You notice the way she is looking at me
Not a lot of reason to expound much on what it takes for a trip like this and what it takes to make happen. It is a lot. But once we are ready to launch and Stormy jumps into the front seat, and for me to get in, settle in the seat, put the rudder stirrups on to my river boots and make those initial strokes with your paddle it all becomes reality.
But I can tell you this, it is a lot, it is all serious business, it is stressful, and it is exhilarating at the same time. It is also not for the faint of heart. It takes complete confidence in your abilities, and it is an absolute you need to be aware of your limitations and your maximum capabilities.
I have always gone on the thought process of Safety 1st, Comfort 2nd, and Fun 3rd and I have yet to come up with the definition of fun. It is work. It is all consuming and it is a constant to face the unknown with all the energy one can muster. You must make spit decisions, constantly be aware of your surroundings, always have a point to head to and always make sure you are not expending your energy by passing up at camp site, not knowing if there isn’t going to be another for a long way.
As we head out of the water way, into the Hay River, past the Coast Guard Station, past all the tugs and barges, yet to start supplying the villages all the say up to the Arctic Ocean, past some houses, past all the clean up going on along the beaches, bike paths and roads, the overwhelming thought of paddling 1,200 miles plus or minus hits you.
Ready to head out 1st day
The kayak is loaded, it is heavy, and it takes 2 to 3 times the work to just propel it. Am I in good enough shape? Have I healed enough to be doing this? Am I emotionally prepared for the inevitable decisions and battles I am going to have to deal with? Do I still have it? And most importantly, do I have any doubts at all I should be doing this?
One of the Coast Guard ships
By the time I am out in open water, paddling around that 1st point, headed west down The Great Slave Lake, the 5th largest lake in the world, all the questions become a moot point, I have no doubts at all.
It became obvious immediately that there are two things we were going to have to contend with, constantly. The absolute amount of driftwood that came down the river, built up behind the ice dam was astounding. In places it was 100 feet deep from the bank and there was no way I was going to find a place to pull in and take a break, let alone find a camp site.
The 2nd thing was the lake was high. Very high, full of water. Now just put that in perspective. Can you imagine the amount of water it would take to make the 5th largest lake in the world rise just 1 inch? This lake was unnormal high by feet. And my experience told me that was going to create a huge challenge for us, until we got to the mouth of the river, a good 4- or 5-day paddle down the lake. Then my mind set became, it is also going to be a challenge on the river, which means a lot of high water, moving fast and finding high and dry campsites might became a challenge on the river.
Obviously on the 1st day all I wanted to do was settle in, doing a reasonable amount of time on the water, not caring how far we went to start to set the pace and get acquainted with the kayak and being on the water again.
Very old small shipwreck? Notice all the driftwood?
Well, we managed to find one spot to stop and take a break. Immediately the bear tracks of a small black bear I am sure were present, but I could tell it was a couple of days ago. Once we were ready, back in the kayak and down the lake.
10 hours later, which is twice what I would paddle even on a normal day, I spotted a gravel bench, just big enough for the tent to sit on. The back of the tent was up against the bushes, the front of the kayak, when you stepped out of the tent, you stepped into the lake. I was not worried about bears, no way one was going to be back in here, it was marshy, thick and way out of the way.
A prelude of what to was come on finding camp sites
We didn’t do bad for the 1st night. The biggest issues were the waves slapping against the shore/logs. Fortunately, I had a great spot along side a log to secure the kayak, put the cockpit covers on and we managed to get some sleep. It is going to be a job for both of us, Stormy just will not accept anything less than sleeping in the sleeping bag with me. She must be touching me.
The weather. When we left the sun was shining. Keep in mind it never gets dark. The sun sets about 11 or 12 and is up at 2 or 3. About 10 the fog blew in from across the lake and I virtually could not see the bank unless I was almost right next to it. And with the lake high, that is not wise. There are sunken logs, sand bars, willow trees and bushes covered with water, so it is best to stay out a good distance from the bank and the constant amount of driftwood. I couldn’t see anything.
Could not see a thing
I had some oyster soup for dinner only ate about half of it. Way to tired. My legs were cramping, my arms and shoulders were hurting, and my butt hurt.
DAY 2 ON THE LAKE SUNDAY JUNE 19TH:
There are a few things when I do these trips is constant with me. I am up early, packed up and on the water. Before going to bed, I also pack the kayak with everything I do not need or have used and all I must do is the sleeping gear and tent to put away and most of that goes in the bottom of Stormy’s compartment.
Beautiful morning, very little breeze so no wave action. Sun is bright red just coming up. As we head out, it is very clear to me, it would be a good idea to take a break today. The amount of unexpected paddling yesterday, the 2 ½ day marathon in Hay River, the 1,800-mile drive and the weeks of 12-hour days, has made it clear to me, I am over doing it.
Now, keep in mind, it took 10 hours yesterday just to find a place to camp. Not that much better today. 3 hours later, I spot a small older cabin on an island, within paddling distance. I surmised that if it was high enough for the cabin, it probably wasn’t flooded and it was worth paddling out to the cabin, in my mind.
That turned out to be the case. Nobody has been here for quite some time, but a perfect place to take a well-deserved break. I set camp up by 10 AM. Have gone thru most of the gear already, always consolidating and eliminating. Dried out all the wet stuff. I got my river boots and sweats wet getting out of the kayak last night. Stupid of me to not have my hip boots on which I will always wear from now on.
Charged up the phone for taking pictures. The notebook for parring with the In Reach, the camera and will charge up the laptop when done here. I have 2 new lithium batteries that are amazing, and of course a complete solar set which on days like today, with the sun shining constantly, everything would charge in record time.
We are next to a rock outcropping on the end of this little island and there is a bird rookery, which I enjoy listening to much more than the waves lapping against the logs and bank. That was the number 1 thing on Lake Baikal in Siberia that stressed me, and it drove me nuts.
Lots of birds
Stormy just loves this
Laying in the sun in front of the old cabin
Good spot to pull in and tie up
It will take all day tomorrow to get to the beginning of the mouth of the river. There is a good camp site on the down river side of Braband Island, we should be there by noon. There is a lake known as Beaver Lake and if the wind is blowing it is no fun, so will hit that very early. Another 2 days to Fort Providence. There is one more lake to get across and then we are in the river and the current for sure. I expect there to be a lot of current, and we will do 20, 30 or even 40 miles a day.
DAY 3 ON THE LAKE MONDAY JUNE 20TH:
All in all, it ended up being a good place to camp for us. Flat ground, plenty of room. Not quiet with the bird rookery about 100 yards away, but we slept thru most of it. They squawk all night long, since it doesn’t get dark. It looked like nobody has been around for quite some time. Seems to be the norm with every single place I have seen or stopped at. Grant you there are not many of them.
We paddled along with what I thought was the shoreline. It turned out it was a huge driftwood line, for miles and I ended up out in very open water. I knew something was not right but didn’t catch it for an hour or so.
I followed along with this to my left and ended up way out in the lake
Once I understood what was happening, I turned left and paddled thru the driftwood, until I got to open water and could see the shoreline another mile or two, so headed to shore. I don’t like being in open water. I was a very long way out into the lake, head for more of it.
It was warm with the sun shining, flat water and so it was not stressful, I just paddled a lot I didn’t need to. If I would have just got to shore as soon as we took off, it would have saved a lot of time and paddling.
When it is nice it is nice
Once to the shore, I head down the lake again. Found an Island with another old shack on it, stopped to take a break. After about 15 minutes back on the water. The ice, with the lake being so full, just pushed everything to the other side of the small island. There was still ice.
I reorganized the book/maps I have. Cut out the maps only, put them in a zip lock and once I hit the point that puts us into the mouth of the Mackenzie, I started to understand the route, the islands and felt confidence for the 1st time I was on our way and knew exactly where we were.
Also, the In Reach gives me my exact location but does not have the detail that the maps do, but between the map and the In Reach paired with the notebook, there is not reason for one to not know exactly where he is and make plans accordingly.
The ice came right over this island and pushed this cabin
Really great paddling
Once in the mouth I was amazed at the amount of current coming out of the lake immediately. We had to traverse across the lake, because I wanted to stop at a Coast Guard supply spot for the buoys where there was supposed to be some flat ground for good camping. I had to work at it. I didn’t expect to have current until I got down to Fort Providence. I don’t expect to have any current on Beaver Lake which we get into tomorrow.
The book/maps I have are 18 years old. Wish now I could/would have found another one more recent, but I didn’t find one. No Coast Guard spot. But there is a “shut down” lodge known as the Brabant Lodge for fishing on the Mackenzie River. Looks like they just shut, locked the doors and left several years ago. I am going to find out the story.
Nice two-unit log cabins, 16 Lund large boats pulled up into the trees along the bank. Must be 200 50-gallon metal barrels laying around, most empty some with AV Gas, Unleaded Gas and Diesel in them. Can’t figure out how the moved them full. The whole place is completely overgrown. I bet there is a good story behind this situation here.
The cabin I stayed in
Well, nobody around, so I decided to stay in one of the log cabins. Smart. Mattress is brand new. Place is clean. Not a two-minute walk from where I tied up the kayak on the dock. Pretty much have rid the place of all the mosquitos.
I don’t think the In Reach is working right. It was. Stresses me. There are several things I am going to try to accomplish in Fort Providence.
Hope I can find somebody who has one and help me. If not find somebody who will be patient with me and let me use their phone to call customer support, will be the 3rd time.
I only brought one pair of sweats and they are smelling ripe. I forgot to get a small pair of binoculars, will ask if somebody has one, they will sell me for not too much.
Will find the internet and finish off this 1st part of the beginning of the Journal, send it to James who works on the website and helps me and get this Journal uploaded and things proper on the Home Page of www.1indsob.com.
Assess my gear again. I have spent hours here these 1st 3 days, reorganizing, trying to figure out if I need to keep it or throw it away or give it away. Not finding much. I am not eating near as much as I thought I would. That might change. Snacking on energy bars, have a Kachava Drink in the morning on the move. No lunch to speak of and here it is going on 5 and about ready to have mashed potatoes and gravy and a piece of sourdough bread I brought.
Stormy is doing great. She is so patient and kind. She won’t eat in the mornings, but I brought a lot of the chicken jerky she likes, so she gets a couple of them. I toss them to her when I eat what I do. Then as soon as we start to get things set up for the nights, I give her dog food and she eats it.
The water is clearing up, so she doesn’t mind drinking out of the lake. It was almost black at Hay River from the flood and for a lot of miles.
No driftwood, none. The mouth of the river is clean and no debris of any kind. That has surprised me. If the 1st few miles into the river is any indication, then I don’t expect to have to dodge root balls, trees hung up and dodge driftwood moving down the river. I do know there are a couple of rivers that bring huge amounts of debris down into the Mackenzie, The Liard being one of them.
Don’t think for a minute this cabin I am staying in wouldn’t be a blessing at about 700 miles. This trip I may just stay in a B&B/motel or find a room to take a shower, find a meal. Normally I don’t do that. There are a total of 10 villages, Hay River being the 1st, Inuvik being the 10th so plenty of opportunity to do that. You can drive all the way to Inuvik, so I would imagine in the larger villages, which larger is only a word, there will be some opportunity to take a break for a night/maybe a day, for 2 nights.
I am not sure if the road hits every single village, you would think so, will have to find that out.
I am tired, that is very understandable. But I feel great in the mornings and my knack for getting up early is going to serve us well on this trip in a variety of positive ways.
I believe I am the only paddler currently on the entire river. No one I spoke to in Hay River had heard of anyone leaving. Some of them drive up to Fort Simpson and start, so they miss the lake paddle and Beaver Lake and Hay Lake. To me that wouldn’t be paddling the Mackenzie River.
DAY 4 ON THE RIVER TUESDAY JUNE 21ST:
4 AM sunrise
Up early as usual, on the water headed down the into Beaver Lake where we lost what current we did have with the beginning of the river. It became very clear we were going to have a tough time once again find a camp spot.
Lots of miles and hours paddling, fortunately no wind to speak off. There was supposed to be a camp spot at the mouth of the Kakisa River but I couldn’t find it with such high water.
No way you can camp in that
We continued, now we are in the kayak about 6 hours, and I am starting to cramp up and very tired. Also, a thunderstorm was brewing lots of lightening and thunder, in fact I spotted a fire that had started off to the north and it wasn’t long, and I was smelling the smoke. It looked like it was going to hit us from the back, from the east and I have had two different experiences of a brutal thunderstorms and rain hit me. Once on the Yukon that came out of no where to my back. Once on the Eg River in Mongolia and that one was the worst I have ever been in.
That was it for me. I spotted what I believed was a way to get to some dry/high ground, ran the kayak into the willows until we hit a log. I got out and it was above my hip boots, so now I am full of water.
You can’t imagine what it was like making 4 trips in and 4 trips out
I had Stormy wait in the kayak and literally almost crawled in and sure enough it would work and work well. But getting camp set up was not going to be an easy endeavor. It took 4 trips in, and it was the worst situation I had ever set camp up in. Stormy, to my utter amazement, got out of the kayak on the front, jumped on the log, waded and swam in to where I was going to set the tent up.
Once set up and the tent sprayed with Raid, the bed made it was quite comfortable. I don’t like setting up in the trees/bushes but had no choice. My only thinking was a bear would have to be nuts to be hanging out in here. I did wander around a bit just to week if I spotted any bear sign, none to be seen.
Tough only word for it
Ended up not being a bad place
I woke up at 1 AM, now mind you it never realty gets dark. At that time, it is somewhat not quite light. The wind was blowing, and it was raining.
Went back to sleep. 30 minutes later I opened my eyes and listened to what was going on outside. Nothing. Not a sound. You could have hard a pen drop in the woods. I got up, packed up, made 4 trips back out and got packed up. Stormy waited until she knew it was the last load and once again to my astonishment, she waded, swam and got on the log and got back in the kayak. I never had to say a word to her.
3 AM sunrise
On the water and it is a long 6 hours paddle to get to the new bridge in the last few years across the Mackenzie which will take you to Yellowknife. Previously it was a ferry.
The current picked up significantly and I had to paddle continuously and strenuously to make sure I got to the north bank, because it was the north bank and a channel that would take me into Fort Providence.
An hour later we are pulling up to the base of the bank, in the middle of the village, in front of a park I could see up on the top of the bank. Got what I needed, got the tent/cover out so it could dry, tied up the kayak and headed up the bank.
Now, we had been in the kayak since 2 AM. It is 8 AM. I walk like a drunken native. I am hungry, disillusioned, worried about what lies ahead and dismayed.
I asked where the motel and restaurant were, I had planned on staying in the motel anyway. It was practically right in front of me. I tied Stormy up, went in and ordered ham/potatoes/2 eggs, rye toast and orange juice.
Couple guys were sitting in there having coffee. We got to talking and I told them how difficult it had been for me to find camp spaces. They told me it was unusual; this was the 2nd year of high water, and it would not be any better until I got down past Fort Simpson which was close to 200 miles. They also suggested I go talk to the Environmental Resources officer, fancy word for Game Commission guy and once I ate, I walked down to their compound and one of them was outside, unhooking a boat.
He took me inside, we got on the computer with Google Earth, and he showed me where most of the camp sites would be from there to Fort Simpson, some of the 40 to 50 kilometers apart and that is a long way.
Being tired, down and dismayed after discussing some of the issues I fight, we both agreed it would probably be best and safer if I did not proceed. I obviously reluctantly agreed.
I went back and talked to the guys at the restaurant and one of them told me he would get me back to Hay River to my van. Not cheap but no choice. I said I would like to leave at 7 AM. He said he would be there and gave me his phone number. He had lived there for 40 years and grew up, upriver on a farm his father had. Big one I guess from the way it sounded. Now this was 50 years ago.
I got to the kayak, threw the stuff into Stormy’s seat and went down around the corner to the boat ramp/dock and got it unloaded and into black plastic bags and got everything out of the kayak. Andy who was going to take me to Hay River was bringing a trailer, so I didn’t need to break the kayak down, thank God.
Once I got it all done, an older native couple pulled up and I asked her if she had Andy’s phone number in her phone, she did, he answered, and I asked if he could come and get everything, so I didn’t have to worry about anything thru the night. 10 minutes later he is there, and I am back to the motel.
Walked across the street, got a hamburger and fries to go and went back to the room and shared it with Stormy. The breakfast settled great. The hamburger not so well.
A shower, some time on the internet and that is when I sent an email out to a select group/kids and said I was not going to be able to finish the trip.
In bed by 7.
DAY FIVE/SIX FORT PROVIDENCE/HAY RIVER WENDSDAY JUNE 22ND:
Up early and Stormy and I went for a walk in the little park that was right next door to the motel, the one I had tied up to when I pulled in yesterday. The sun was shining, it was a beautiful morning, no wind and I looked down at the river and had de ja Vue. When I was on the Yukon and had arrived at Greyling, Alaska about 80% of the trip, I was having trouble with my thumbs/hands, they were seizing up and hurt. I said enough is enough, I am done. I got a phone and made a reservation to fly out of there. Got the kayak broke down, things bagged up in pieces of blue tarp, because I had shipped my bags up to where I was going to end the trip and fly out of.
I had been paddling with a group of kids from The University of Denver, they had 2 canoes and 3 kayaks, I think. It was off and on, but we got to know each other pretty well. They showed up a couple of hours later and we all went to the chiefs building and they cooked us moose chili and native bread and they fed us.
The next morning the kids got up and got on the water and as they were paddling down the river and broke into tears. It was a sight I shall never forget and did not take a picture of it because I did not want to share what I saw. I almost got my gear, put the kayak together and paddled after them. To this day I regret I did not do that.
Back to the Mackenzie Thursday morning. As I looked at the river, remembering that moment in Greyling, Alaska, I said to myself, no way am I going back without paddling The Mackenzie River, the longest river in Canada.
A young guy who works for Andy’s son showed up at 7. I thought it was going to be Andy, so we got to talking and I put my few bags with me in the back seat, got Stormy in and away we went. With the conversation I had left my hip boots sitting there and my good down coat in the room. Turns out they are there in the office will swing in and pick them up on my way out of here, about 80 miles.
2 1/2 hours later he is dropping me, Stormy, the kayak and the gear off at where I had left the Van. Now I am on a mission.
I spend the day going thru all the gear. I eliminated about 60%, lots of food and a ton of stuff I did not need. Paired everything down except Stormy’s food. Every village has a Northern Store and every and anything I would need. I probably cut the weight in the Kayak down 60% at least. Lighter, move faster which in my mind means more opportunity for camping spots.
Spent hours at the library trying to get the In Reach issues resolved. One of the girls who worked there let me use her phone. As it turned out, there were some issues, but they all really pointed to the notebook that I paired with the In Reach unit for use in the kayak. I decided I did not need that, once less thing to deal with.
I bought a new set of waders. I also bought a whole set of maps for the river for the entire way. Have them all cut to size, yellow marked and with a new book like the one I started with I will have no problems knowing where I am always.
Few more things and spent the night at the dock where I had launched last Saturday. I was having issues with the van starting. I had met a guy there before I left, he said if I needed help to let him know. I knew where he lived. With all of that, he gave me a new battery he had in his garage. I went to say thanks and goodbye to him Thursday AM and the van wouldn’t start. Two things, the alternator or a bad battery. I put his battery in. The day before I had ordered a new alternator that was going to be there at 10:00 AM.
As it has turned out, when I picked the alternator up before leaving town, I also bought another new battery, just in case. No issues, it has got to be the battery was bad, probably been in the van for years. Now I have a new battery in the van. Two new ones in the back and a new alternator. Over kill. Will considering I am where I am, I wish now I would have ordered a new starter also.
Washed some bedding and clothes and was head to Fort Simpson by 1:00. The same way I had got the ride back to Hay River.
Dusty drive and about 400 miles. Saw a cow moose with her calf swimming together in a little pond. A couple of officers shooting a small black bear that had got hit by traffic. How that can happen is beyond me because there was very little traffic. I did notice that the streams and rivers I crossed were starting to drop.
In Fort Simpson by 7. Went to the Provisional Park and spent the night.
DAY 7 FORT SIMPSON SATURDAY JUNE 25:
Out of the campground at 5:30 and immediately apparent to me everyone in Fort Simpson thinks Saturdays are a National Holliday. Nothing opens until 11. Library is supposed to open at 1.
I went down to the end of town where I found a good spot right on the water and decided that since it was early, I would just get the kayak off the van, on the water and pack things up. Everything was essentially ready. Easy time because I had really taken the gear own from way to much to as light and little on any trip I have done.
A guy showed up with his wife and talked to me and was really interested in what I was doing. One thing led to another, and he told me a story about a couple from France 4 years ago who he had helped on a trip in an inflatable kayak. A week later he heard the guy had got attacked at night, pulled out of his tent and dragged off and killed by a grizzly bear. Not particularly the kind of story one likes to be told when he is about ready to head that way. Then he asked if I had a gun. I said no, never felt like I needed one. But I did tell him after that story he just told me I wouldn’t mind having 2. He said even if the French guy would have had a gun, he probably wouldn’t have been able to do much with it.
He asked me if I would like to have a shotgun with slugs. I thought about it and said yes, I would return it to him when I flew out of Inuvik, to Yellowknife and back to Fort Simpson.
Mentioning Frenchmen. A lady told me yesterday in the library that a young French man that had paddled all the way across Northern Canada from Montreal into the Great Slave Lake, drowned in a storm on the lake last year I think it was. Doesn’t look like the Frenchmen are having very good luck.
There is a company called Canoe North here that does river raft trips on of the river and probably some trips on the river. They are picking up some rafters this morning after a trip and I will meet them and their guides this afternoon about 4.
I am out in front of the library, no one has showed up yet.
I need to upload pictures from the phone and camera, populate them in this 1st Journal. Put them in my Drop Box account and send them to James, and he will get it on the website properly, that is what he did for me on the Mongolia/Siberia trip.
I have arranged to park my van in the yard of Simpson Air until I get back. He doesn’t show up until 7:30 so for me it will be a late start in the morning. Have I mentioned it is warm and humid?